Talk about Sinhala music and simple lyrics. Talk about themes close to everyone's heart, lilting melodies sung by a golden voice. One name comes to mind - C.T. Fernando. He passed away many years ago – yet we still sing his songs at parties, hum them if we can't remember the words and listen to them even occasionally over the air waves.
Now I am hearing C.T. on the sitar thanks to renowned sitarist Pradeep Ratnayake launching a brand new album – 'Tribute to the Masters'. As I listen to the CD, I picture Pradeep's fingers moving on the strings of his sitar playing Ane dingak innako with the unmistakable sounds of Luxman Joseph de Saram's violin accompanying it. In his inimitable style, Pradeep varies the tempo from one song to the other. Ma bala kale is a slow one just as CT sang it.
There is Harsha Makalanda's (or is it Soundarie David's I wouldn't know) touch on the piano. Pradeep moves on to Amba ruk sewanelle with a faster beat with Jayantha Dissanayake's saxophone providing the backing. Next is the ever popular Sihina lowe with Janaka Bogoda on his flute in the background. Mervin Priyantha's mouth organ is an ideal backing for Mee amba wanaye. As Pradeep plays today's most popular song, Hela jathika abhimane, traditional drums are heard in the background.
There are many more of the all-time favourites in the album – Bilinda nalawe, Lo ada ninde, Piyumehi peni bothi, Salalihini kowul, Mee vadayeki jeevite – 18 in all. Well known musicians who have been accompanying Pradeep in his concerts have done a great job with the back-up music.
In addition to the ones mentioned earlier, Alston Joachim & Upula Madhushanka (bass guitar), Sangeeth Wickramasinghe, Asoka Pieris & Mahendra Pasquel (keyboard), Shiraz Noormith, Christopher Prins, Nuresh Perera & Ranjith Silva (drums), Sujeeva Ranasingha (esraj), Navin Hemantha & Ajth Kodikara (violin), Nuwan Vithanage & Rasika Hewage (viola), Rohan Silva (Hawaian guitar) and Jananath Warakagoda, Ruwan Rakhitha & Dananjaya Somasiri (percussion) have joined Pradeep in creating something any music lover will cherish.
Helping Pradeep to arrange the melodies were Soundarie David and Mahendra Pasquel. One time household name, 'Tharanga' owner Vijaya Ramanayake deserves a special word of thanks for taking the initiative in producing the album. It is titled Mee amba vanaye – the melodies of C. T. Fernando on the sitar.
Incidentally, this is the second occasion Pradeep pays homage to the Masters of Sinhala song. His first album - 'Sitar gee rava' featured 12 songs sung by H.W. Rupasinghe, Ananda Samarakoon, Susil Premaratne, Mohamad Ghouse, W. D. Amaradeva, and P. L. A. Somapala.
Pradeep, presently continuing his post-graduate studies at the Columbia University, New York as a Fulbright scholar is studying jazz on the sitar.
Over the past few years, Pradeep has contributed enormously to popularise an instrument which not many appreciated in Sri Lanka. With his new venture, the sitar will be heard in more homes. While paying a well deserved tribute to a master, Pradeep has given us something to appreciate, something to value. Let's wait and see who would be the next master he would take up.